The owner of the Club 88 e-gaming venue in Garapan announced yesterday that it is holding its planned closure in abeyance while proposed changes to Saipan Local Law 22-6 are on the table of the Saipan and Northern Islands Legislative Delegation.
Mariana Entertainment LLC, which sued to halt the implementation of Saipan Local Law 22-6 that essentially doubled the license fees on e-gaming machines, appears encouraged by the judge’s words that encouraged the company to work out the matter with the delegation, hence the decision to temporarily postpone its planned closure.
According to the company’s consultant, Gus Noble, they have sent a letter of amendment two weeks ago to Sen. Vinnie Sablan (R-Saipan), who chairs the delegation, which they revised and the new letter is now going through the process. “We have sent a letter to the delegation to amend their bill and not to repeal it. …We also made a suggestion as to what we think is a reasonable compromise to reach a favorable flat amount and percentage for all. …We’re hopeful that we can eventually come up with a compromise.”
He said they have also have been talking to delegation members to get their support. “Personally, I am worried that perhaps we have offended the Saipan delegation, but that’s not our intent. …We’re just trying to have our voice heard. …Our intent was to reach out to them and have an opportunity to speak to them or have the opportunity to be heard,” he added.
Saipan Local Law 22-6 imposes $2,500 tax or 15% of net gaming proceeds, whichever is greater, on all electronic gaming devices on Saipan, including poker amusement machines within e-gaming facilities or hotels. This is on top of the $2,500 license fee these companies are already paying to the CNMI government for each machine. In effect, this doubles the license fees of e-gaming devices.
Noble, who is also the gaming consultant for Saipan Vegas Resort, said their company has been in operation for over five years and they continue to employ residents and contribute to the economy and pay taxes. “We’ve always paid quite high taxes on time and in full…but we understand where the delegation is coming from with regard to revenue loss from poker rooms. We respect and understand that and we are happy to come to a compromise…one that we think is livable and reasonable.”
He added that the initial decision to close Club 88 was a difficult decision as many factors were considered. “We’re still in a pandemic and the likelihood of our employees trying to find a job in this current environment is very difficult. … So while we’re still in that process of trying to get the amendment, we’re going to postpone temporarily the closure of Club 88. …We don’t know how long but hopefully, until we get the amendment.”
Both Club 88 employees Maureen Javier and Sonia Lacerna-Ancheta feel uncertain about their employment status since the new tax measure was signed into law last August 2, 2021.
“I carry mixed feelings of shock and fear with the thought of the possibility of losing my job because it is a known fact that it is hard to find a job nowadays. What is special about this company is that they take good care of us. Aside from being provided employment benefits, promotion and increase in pay is real here. If you work hard, the company recognizes it and gives you the compensation you deserve,” Javier said.
This was echoed by Ancheta who, despite being in her late 60’s, was employed by Mariana Entertainment LCC to work at Club 88. “I need this job. …It will be very difficult for me to find another job because I am not young anymore. …My message to our lawmakers is to please help us keep our jobs because it will be a big help for us, for the 30 local people employed at Club 88,” she said.
Noble said that Associate Judge Kenneth Govendo, who is handling their case in Superior Court, has encouraged members of the Legislature and his company, Mariana Entertainment LLC and MP Holdings LLC, to discuss the effects of the bill “The next court hearing will be on Sept. 16 and we are hopeful that we will be able to go to that hearing and say, ‘It’s okay, judge, we’ve worked it out.’”